Science of Strengths

The top line: the work of positive psychologists like Martin Seligman appears to show that the happiest people are those that have discovered their unique strengths (such as persistence and critical thinking) and virtues (such as humanity or justice) and use those strengths and virtues for a purpose that is greater than their own personal goals.

You may have had certain strengths that are so natural to you that you may not even consider them strengths. Think about an episode in your life when you were at your very best. What qualities enabled you to perform like that? While there are numerous talents and strengths that humans can possess, Character Strengths and Virtues are ones that humanity universally values. When Martin Seligman and Chris Peterson sought to discover and classify commonly held strengths and virtues across cultures, they created a classification of core virtues that humans morally value regardless of their cultural, racial, and religious differences. Take the VIA Signature Strengths questionnaire to determine your top three signature strengths:  (Note: you will have to register on the Authentic Happiness website first to take the test. This is a short form that should take only a few minutes to complete).

In addition to the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire, there are also other strengths classifications, including: StrengthsFinder, the Virtues Project, and Realise 2. Each classification is unique and is based upon different studies of talents, virtues, or strengths.

Current research indicates that you are most likely to value a job, relationship, hobby or institution that aligns with your core signature strengths and allows you to regularly utilize them. In fact, research indicates that one of the best ways to boost your long-term happiness is to use your strengths in new ways and situations, rather than focusing on your weaknesses. For instance, a 2010 study of college students found that individuals who used their signature strengths made more progress in reaching their goals (and improving their well-being) (1). In addition, a seminal study in 2004 found that certain character strengths, including hope, zest, gratitude, love, and curiosity, show a stronger link to life satisfaction (2).

The use of strengths and virtues is therefore well in keeping with the philosophy of positive psychology: to focus on the positive in your life, not the negative!

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